A strategic review of the use of modern methods of construction in new-build and refurbishment housing projects

Summary and findings

The intent of this report is to provide an overview of modern methods of construction and to make some initial comment on the possibilities for their use in the various areas new build and regeneration schemes.

The report does not make specific, detailed recommendations but, rather, takes a general view of possibilities and some of their relative merits.

There is a general resume of the current status of modern methods of construction; a review of typical key features in new- build and regeneration projects in relation to that status and an assessment of the particular constraints and associated issues to be taken into account in the decision-making process.

The report seeks to identify possibilities based on what is available and what might be used, but is not in any way a definitive design statement or engineering study. Neither does the report make any review of costs associated with the various systems.

There are, though, a number of key issues that must be recognised and acknowledged during the whole briefing, design and construction phases. 

Key issues

the advantages of using modern methods of construction are not automatically achieved
use of MMC often involves a cost premium and ‘true costs’ can be difficult to isolate

those funding the investment in MMC must also be the recipients of the benefits of their use
use of MMC can attract Housing Corporation funding where both refurbishment and new build will take place while other areas are occupied, MMC can provide mitigation of disturbance

procurement requires careful consideration of design and hardware procurement issues and will benefit from partnering approaches
designs must incorporate MMC from the start if it is to be used at all

MMC should be focused on critical path activities to maximise benefits.
in using MMC accurate cost information is vital and yet can be difficult to obtain
quality standards for MMC elements must be discussed and agreed at the earliest stage and monitored conditions into which MMC elements are to be delivered must be understood and appropriate protection arranged modules placed on site but left insecure will certainly be damaged and abused
issues of access and craneage must be clarified before MMC decisions are taken
MMC is speedier but demands more crane ‘hook time’ commissioning of whole systems incorporating MMC elements must be carefully planned and managed.

Potential uses of MMC Infrastructure

Possible uses for MMC elements in infrastructure include;

  • bridge structures (modular)

  • retaining walls and abutments (panel)

  • podium structures (modular or panel)

  • heating plant (modular and pre-commissioned)

  • sub-stations and transformers (modular)

  • service pipe tracks (panel or component)

  • secondary items such as drainage elements 

Tower refurbishment:
  1. Tower block refurbishment is often unlikely to allow

    significant modular or volumetric construction due to access and hoisting issues as well as cost premiums; (unless

    complete gutting of the structure is planned). However there are a number of panellised or sub-assembly elements that can be used.

    • cladding is often specified as insulated render.- however, there may well be potential for the use of panellised systems for the insulation element or for a full rainscreen panel system.

    • if window sizes are to be reduced from current levels benefit might be gained from the use of ‘window-wall’ replacements.

    • new internal partitions and separating walls may be comparatively small in total area but could use MMC formats such as metal frame or gypsum block systems

    • where floors and ceilings are restricted by height considerations from any large make-up to improve acoustic insulation. The use of Acoustic underlays may provide a solution. 

    • New shower rooms or bathrooms could be podded if appropriate access for installation can be made available. Retention of existing spandrel panels, for example, would create some problems with installation

    • studies should be undertaken with manufacturers to ascertain whether a pre-assembly approach could be used.

      where electrical services are planned to use existing conduits pre-assembled wiring is unlikely to be viable – however in heavily serviced areas such as kitchens there may be scope for use of pre-assembled services for new appliances and fixtures

      fit-out of kitchens should use pre-assembled units suitably protected until all other construction activities are complete

      in some cases refurbishment plans also include for additional accommodation on tower roofs. Such plans should exploit opportunities for use of modular or panellised solutions. 

New build:

  • New-build elements provide many opportunities for the use of MMC but it is difficult to cover the full range of possibilities. Below are a number of examples of potential uses for MMC.
  • use of precast foundation systems is technically feasible for many new-build blocks but final decisions will depend on engineering and geotechnical considerations 

  • blocks in excess of 3-4 storeys will probably rule out the use of timber frame construction and possibly some structural insulated panels(SIPS) too.

  • where there is a wide range of units and block heights the use of full modular construction will probably be ruled out on cost grounds.

  • for blocks up to 7 storeys high it is likely that structural frame solutions will be used in concrete or steel. These may incorporate MMC features

  • with frame structures there are a number of panel and component solutions for infill between columns – these include precast crosswalls, SIPS and timber or lightweight steel frame panels

  • lightweight metal frame systems should, ideally, be prefabricated in a site factory to avoid transport of large frames.

  • orsteelstructurallinertrays- notrequiringadditional rafters or purlins and thus giving clear space below pre-assembled service risers and plant rooms can be incorporated in a frame structure

    new build provides opportunities for the use of modular kitchens and/or bathrooms subject to commercial viability elements such as stairs and balconies should wherever possible be pre-assembled or precast units installed by crane.

  • timber frame infill is less favoured and metal frames are currently being used extensively

  • the structure and infill systems noted above generally include p urpose designed floor solutions with raised floors providing the finished surface with a void below for services.

  • windows and window walls should be pre-finished, pre- glazed and sealed

  • lift shafts and lift motor rooms can be modular elements with the motor rooms pre-commissioned

  • internal walls and separating walls can be of frame construction or large format systems such as gypsum blocks and thin-joint systems

  • monopitch roofs to new-build blocks lend themselves to the use of structural insulated roof panels (SIRPS) 

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